September 30, 2015

Art Blogger of the Week: A.D. Coleman in New York, USA

It was Andres Zervigon, professor at Rutgers University, New Jersey, who told me about A.D. Coleman's blog. Both Andres Zervigon and A.D. Coleman are historians of photography - a field I myself have a special interest in. And the story that Andres told me was so exciting, I had to check out Coleman's blog. The story was about Robert Capa, and no, it wasn't about about the authenticity of his 1936 Falling Soldier photograph, but about those 11 slightly blurred pictures featuring D-Day 1944, that escaped the fate of Capa's 72 other photographs in Life's London darkroom. Start reading about it here. For this Robert Capa D.Day Project, Coleman, together with J. Ross Baughman, and Rob McElroy, received the 2014 Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi (SDX) Award for Research About Journalism. But that's not all: Coleman is also a blogger who started his career at the World Wide Web as early as 1995. As such, for now, he beats all the bloggers featured in this series.    

Art scene
"New York has long been, and will remain for the foreseeable future, a world center for art in all forms, including photography. That makes it, by definition, cosmopolitan in outlook, global in influence. Much of the money in the art market passes through the galleries and auction houses and private dealers located here. Much of the most influential writing about art in English gets published here. Because New York functions as a nexus and synapse for the arts, no trend prevails for long; by definition, it's a smorgasbord.

I would say the same for the U.S. as a whole. In art, as in most cultural matters, it has a heterogeneous rather than a homogenous character."

"I started my blog, Photocritic International, in mid-2009. Before that, I had published a newsletter at my website from 1995 on, but doing that in html code proved tedious, so I didn't make frequent use of that option. Blogware (I use WordPress) made production and publication simple, and enabled subscription-based delivery, easier tracking of readership, reader commenting, etc.

I use it for long-form criticism and cultural journalism, which runs contrary to the conventional wisdom proposing that blog posts should stay short and punchy. I publish 5-6 such essays each month at the blog. Because I subsidize it myself, I have no editors or advertisers to whom I have any obligation. Because my readers provide only negligible support, I write about whatever I please. I have undertaken long-term coverage of various subjects -- the dismembering of the Polaroid Collection, the 2012 presidential election (from the standpoint of the visual images involved), most recently the myth of Robert Capa's D-Day experiences and the subsequent fate of his negatives. And a much wider range of issues than even those three would suggest.

Blogging guarantees me a platform for anything and everything I want to publish, at minimal cost, subject only to my own editorial decisions. Given that so many platforms for art writing are compromised by economic ties to art-world advertisers, as well as by timid editors afraid to offend anyone, having such an outlet benefits any independent art writer, I think.

I exchange ideas with other bloggers, link to posts at other blogs, and sometimes contribute to their blogs. I also publish periodic "guest posts" at my own blog, to add a diversity of voices to it."

"As a critic, historian, and curator I specialize in photography, photo-based art, and work made with the new digital technologies -- so my purview overlaps multimedia, installation, and some other amorphous areas of contemporary creative activity.

My educational background emphasized English literature and creative writing. I'm self-educated in the subject areas I cover. I have been at it since 1968, so my 50th anniversary as a photo critic lies just a few years ahead.

I have always worked freelance, though for periods of four or more years I have been a regular columnist for such publications as the Village Voice, the New York Times, the New York Observer, and a number of art and photo magazines here and abroad. I have published 8 books of my writings, and about 2000 articles -- some of them translated into 21 languages and published in 31 countries.

Aside from what I produce for the blog, I fulfill writing assignments for online and print periodicals. I also contribute essays to monographs and museum catalogs and other types of publication. Beyond that, I offer public lectures; teach college-level full-semester courses; run seminars (in person and online/distance learning); curate exhibitions; and do some consultancy."

"I have been publishing my own work (and publishing websites containing my own work and work by others) online since 1995. The direct, tangible economic return on all that work has proved pitifully low. A few of my blog posts have made their way into print media, bringing in small fees. Only a few sales of copies of my books, writing assignments, lecture opportunities, etc., have resulted. Rarely do readers of my blog avail themselves of the "Donate" button on every page.

Giving a lecture or fulfilling a different writing assignment does not in any way "monetize" my blog -- it does not generate revenue at or from the blog. Such work subsidizes my blog; it brings in the money that makes it possible for me to publish the blog and produce its content, as a labor of love (or lunacy).

Writers considering blogging should pay attention to that important distinction. It's a form of self-publishing and, like most self-publishing, you have done well if you have broken even on your financial investment (discounting your time and labor). By that standard, I've done well with my blog and my prior online ventures over the past twenty years."

© Copyright 2015 by A. D. Coleman. All rights reserved. By permission of the author and Image/World Syndication Services,

September 26, 2015

Open Letters: A Correspondence with Chilean Art Writer Ignacio Szmulewicz, 5

Ignacio Szmulewicz is an art writer in Santiago, Chile. We met on Twitter and ended up writing each other letters about art writing. This week Ignacio wrote me a letter asking some mystical questions.

Dear An:

After reading your last letter, I was thinking all week about two things. The first has to do with what you told me about writing by thinking in a visual medium. I tend to believe that the experience of art has to do with much more than the visual component -what Martin Jay calls “ocularcentrismo”. Juan José Santos, the Spanish art critic living in Chile, who first mentioned you, once wrote about the professional critics as the persons in a exhibition that are constantly smelling the paintings. I don’t know if he captured me doing that, but the thing is, I always go much too close to the work as if by some mysterious way the work of art could talk. 
I also believe that much of the art experience is sensorial, and this in a much wider way than just the visual. Your observation made me realize that there is still much more to do to capture the complete experience of art. Can we imagine what it was like when Kaprow, Abramovic or Burden made their performance? How can we imagine the heat in the bodies of the spectators when they saw the contortions in the bodies of the artists? I’m just telling you this because reading your texts I tend to feel that you are very found of making the reader feel the space and the relationship between the people who participate in the art world. I find that fascinating. The music critic Lester Bangs and the novelist Gordon Burn, both amazing discoveries of this year, tend to translate to perfection the whole business involving  the art experience. 

Related to this, on the second hand, I see very clear the differences in the writing process. As you told me you write while traveling , on the road, as you said. I picture you less as Dick Moriarty in the Kerouc book than the characters of Up in the air (that underrated film of Jason Reitman): with your laptop and your mobile devise. I usually write everywhere, and mostly in the more unexpected places. 
Here is a picture of my desk with the usual tools for my work. On the left side is the Cultura/s, the excellent cultural section of La Vanguardia, which my mother saves for me every week. I tend to read it on the bus, in the subway or as I wait for a person, and always finish up writing in it. Most of those incomprehensible notes I later pass on to my notebooks, of which I have a lot (also gifts of my mother). On the inside, the writing gets a little more in order, with the ideas flowing while thinking, lines that indicate the development of thought and the continuity of the text. 

When I was finishing my High School in the south of Chile a friend of mine taught me calligraphy for a year –preparing me for my first option of study at the University, being a school teacher in languages. Of course, this plan went out the window, but I remain very fascinated with the writing in the most visual way, of words that fought to enter a white page. After all this, the process continues on the virtual pages, which I print several times for correction, for walking through the city feeling the pages with me for an extended period of time. 
What would happen with that energy over time? With that fascination with the art and the text? Do you feel that part of that energy passes on to another text? How can that energy end? I close this letter with all these mystical questions.

With affection,


September 24, 2015

Three Excitements in an Overall Likeable Berlin Art Week

“Is there any controversy going on?” a Canadian art critic asked me on her way to Berlin. "Na, not really", I said. And indeed, the whole Berlin Art Week turned out to be a nice event. Everything was pleasant, and everybody was acting so agreeable. Even the elevator didn’t get stuck on its way to the 15th floor for the opening party at the Weekend Club. At the ABC Art Fair people were enjoying themselves, pointing out to me this and that art piece being worthwhile seeing. The art fair itself didn’t exhaust as art fairs are supposed to do. I mean, there was even space available for one to look around. The sun was shining when I arrived at the preview on Thursday. I ate a Bratwurst outside in the shades, preparing for the worst. I swallowed it with a nice cup of tea offered for free by the Javier Peres artist Marinella Senatore. But the Bratwurst turned out to be the only thing that was hard to digest at the ABC Art Fair. 

Rirkrit Tiravanija’s table tennis at ABC Art Fair

All in all, my ABC tour was comparable to Rirkrit Tiravanija’s installation of table tennis: lightweight and fast. It started off with Johann König’s stars Alicja Kwade and Jorinde Voigt shining at the entrance in the color gold. I didn’t even get angry this time. It’s a generation thing, I thought benevolently, this use of highly valuable material peppered with some philosophical content. It might be gold, but it will not last. Further on, I liked the minimalism of Luca Frei at Barbara Wien, but I was not so sure if I liked it because I like all things minimal in life. But I can say as a fact that Dorit Margreiter at Charim Galerie is making good, solid work that takes on a beautiful form. And I had to blink my eyes at Tanja Wagner, where Grit Richter offered an unusual color palette of brown and orange. I didn’t know what to make of the installation, but I liked it, and now, looking at the picture that I took, I start liking it even more. It’s so wrong, it’s good. At Konrad Fischer Galerie I checked out Peter Buggenhout, the partner of my favorite Belgian artist Berlinde de Bruyckere. “Did Buggenhout fish his art work out of Bruges’ canals?” my companion asked me. Good question...

Grit Richter at Tanja Wagner 

Dorit Margreiter at Charim Galerie

Peter Buggenhout at Konrad Fischer Galerie

I had little time to spend at the art fair because I signed up for an exclusive Niche tour through Berlin, which meant that I spent most of the time relaxing in the leather seats of a black bus. I even managed to smuggle a piece of delicious pizza inside, together with a Fritz coke, which I had to drink after I’d seen artist Britta Thie drink one at the project space insitu. Insitu was the highlight of the tour (which included Grim Museum, Deutsche Kunsthalle, KW). Insitu is all over the place at the moment. Everybody is talking about it, thinking about it - if you haven’t done so yet, you should start doing it now. And Britta Thie is the upcoming artist that you should keep an eye on. She’s better than her teacher Hito Steyerl, my friend told me. My friend is right (we'll talk more about Hito Steyerl in a sec). I can also say that Britta Thie in person has this great style going on, and that's how I ended up drinking Fritz coke, it was the closest I could get.  

Britta Thie (drinking Fritz Coke) and Gilles Neiens talking about the show Vic at insitu

I left the bus before we reached KW and after I checked out Deutsche Bank KunstHalle. I thought it was a horrible show. It’s called Xenopolis and it’s about how we’re all strangers. Right, the exhibition started in the entrance hall with a picture of person hidden by a hoodie, and that’s how in the end we’re all strangers.... some more than others, of course. The wall text next to it explained that Parisian curator Simon Njami “fundamentally changed our perception of contemporary African art”. Ha! There was no African artist in the show. Theo Eshetu is British, as far as I know, and not Ethiopian, although the West likes to include him as such in the shows. Mwangi Hutter is a collective living in Berlin. This whole show about “strangers” is based on the philosophy of Roland Barthes - very original, it could also have been Foucault, or Adorno, of course. But it would have been much better if it had been Karl Valentin, who wrote in 1940 this great sketch about the stranger: “Fremd ist der Fremde nur in der Fremde.”

During the Berlin Art Week, there were a few moments when I got really excited. The first time was on Wednesday night. I had started at Capitain Petzel (Peter Piller, nice), then moved on to Hito Steyerl’s show at KOW.  Surrounded by her students, Hito Steyerl was flashing a pink jacket. There was a photographer clicking away around her. It had a certain celebrity quality to it. But let’s talk about the work: I didn’t get her video, using an aesthetics that is ugly to me and featuring a story that makes no sense. I do like her talks that were also shown in the exhibition. In her talks Hito Steyerl makes great sense, delivering new thoughts that most academics are unable to come up with. But it seems as if she thinks that it’s okay for her talks to make sense, but that the art should be senseless, because that’s somehow the intrinsic quality of art: it has no sense, it doesn’t have to make sense, it’s free from making sense. My advice for Hito Steyerl would be to turn her mind about this. 

Hito Steyerl at KOW

I got excited right after leaving Hito Steyerl’s show. It was at Eigen + Art Lab, in an awesome show titled Digitale Demenz (artificial intelligence) curated by Thibaut de Ruyter. De Ruyter told me he has been thinking about this show for a year and a half, and it shows. His curation fits well the idea of a laboratory (Eigen + Art Lab) where breakthroughs often come about when something goes wrong. In general, isn’t the most interesting moment in life when you get lost, when you loose track, when you break a pattern? But what if not a human, but a computer makes a mistake? It can turn against mankind, as we saw in 1996 when Deep Blue, the chess-playing computer devised by IBM, won against Garry Kasparov. Deep blue is also the color that De Ruyter choose for the walls of his exhibit. The curator clearly has a penchant for the early computer freaks of the 1980s (Chris Marker), combined with an affection for conspiracy theories (Erik Bünger) and a leaning towards the apocalypse (iMediengruppe Bitnik) . 

Chris Marker, Dialector 6, 1985-88
at Digitale Demenz (artificial intelligence), Eigen + Art Lab

Erik Bünger, The Girl Who Never Was, 2013 at Eigen + Art Lab

De Ruyter knows also the quality of self-humor. Check out the website made by artist Brendan Howell, changing the curator’s press text into different versions of (non)sense every thirty seconds. Self-humor brings me to my second moment of excitement, which happened on Friday at nGbK. There I talked with Anna Bromley and Michael Fresca about the show Redemption Jokes, which they curated together with Suza Husse, Teena Lange and Jana Sotzko. We got so much into talking that I didn’t have any time left to see the art. I will go back on Sunday for the presentation of their JOKEBOOK. But I was already excited about the carpet, which crawled upon the walls and cuts a path through the exhibition as if it’s an office -  this unusual place for joking, and at the same time a place so much in need of a joke. Besides humour, also eroticism can be an unusual strategy of subversion. That's how my third and last excitement happened on Saturday at Carlier Gebauer. Laure Provost’s video Into All That Is There is highly erotic and I would like to say feminist. It made me think of Audre Lorde’s essay “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power”, stating that “the erotic is the nurturer or nursemaid of all our deepest knowledge.” So, humour and eroticism. Both work to undermine that most dreadful of German words: the Vernunft. 

Anna Bromley and Michael Fresca sitting on the carpet at nGbK

September 23, 2015

Art Blogger of the Week: Sokari Ekine in Haiti and beyond

When I discovered the blog Black Looks by Sokari Ekine I was disappointed: I arrived too late. Black Looks stopped just a year ago, in August 2014, and had been going on since 2004. The damn thing about it was that for the first time I encountered a blog that covered gender issues, human rights, and also art. I tried the "about" section and found out that, fortunately, Sokari Ekine is still kicking. Her new blog on Tumblr focusses on her own artistic work. That doesn't prevent it from being a critical story, maybe not so much with words this time, but with images. Sokari Ekine's activist engagement shows also in her books. She is the co-editor of African Awakenings (2011) and Queer African Reader (2012). And she is the editor of SMS Uprising: Mobile Phone Activism in Africa, this already in 2010, which I find quite visionary. If you want to hear Sokari Ekine's voice you can check out her interviews on Sound Cloud

Art scene
"I’m not sure what comprises an ‘art scene’.  My life over the past 15 years has been a nomadic one, and it’s  only a year since I unpacked my ‘stuff'’ from storage.  I no longer think in terms of home as a physical place but somewhere else - if I’m happy then maybe that's home!  Nonetheless, I recently got to know a few local artists from across the Caribbean: filmmakers, photographers, curators.  So I guess I can now say I’m a part of  a loose network of a small group who have come together to share  a vision of truth telling our histories and cultures - old stories and seeking out new untold stories, gems of our heritage as African descendants in the Diaspora." 

"I started blogging back in June 2004 with my blog Black Looks which ran for ten years. I wrote with the aim of challenging the various negative narratives of Africa, which write us as victims or dependents without agency or authenticity.   Initially, my focus was broad covering Queer/LGBTI issues, gender, migration, and country specific coverage on Nigeria, the DRC and Sudan. It was a steep learning curve.  However, as more African bloggers joined the blogosphere, I  narrowed my focus to LGBTI, Gender, Literature, Haiti and the Niger Delta.

In the early days of blogging, I was part of two small blogging communities, one of African women blogging, and the other a group of radical feminists in the US and elsewhere.  It was intense at times with homophobic and misogynist harassment.  By 2007 the blogging scene across the continent began to change with more women and bloggers covering single issues.   Finally in 2014, after ten years, I decided to end Black Looks.  I had begun to move in a new direction with a new focus on creative work particularly photography which I was taking more seriously.   Also, I could no longer continue to produce the level of writing necessary to keep Black Looks going.  I  wanted to start afresh. 

In May 2014, I created a new website that includes my photography, a blog and links to my podcasts via Sound Cloud, Tumblr and of course Black Looks archive remains." 

"Like many people I’ve  been taking photos most of my adult life.  However, I’m  new to photography in the sense that I now have the desire to create something with aesthetic qualities and to present a visual narrative rather than a textual one. The biggest change I guess is the relationship I have with the images, particularly people.  I’ve never been the kind of person who jumps into other people’s spaces nor am I particularly sociable and this carries through to my making photos. It takes me a while until I feel confident in my knowing. This is probably why I’m not very adept at street photography. I’m not comfortable with my photo being captured in this way so why would I want to do that to someone else unless they overtly consented, which sometimes people do, but sometimes they don't.  Sometimes like when I make eye contact with a stranger on the street, a smile or an arbitrary acknowledgment, and then I feel ok but it can be a little creepy.  In Haiti I nearly always ask and in most cases people are comfortable with that. 

Photography is a new direction in my life and expertise is not a word I would use. Experience seems more appropriate and in my case I’ve started on a new journey that a combination of creativity and spirituality  - a new way of seeing and feeling which I try to express through my work particularly the series “Haitian Vodou: - A Visual Narrative”.  The series is a narrative documentary that celebrates Haitian Vodou as a site of spirituality, resistance, decolonization, and community.   It aims to shift the gaze from representations that depict Vodoun as something negative to the presentation of a truthful narrative: one in which Vodouisants engage with a consciousness and spirituality that celebrates our humanity rather than focusing on a set of prescribed  normative identities.   The work explores the dance, song, possession, drumming, aesthetics and ritual of Vodou. It has been a personal and a  nourishing journey that has a multidimensional force stretching far into the past and into the future. 

So in answer to your question on added perspective ‘to my art’ I would say that through photography and my intimate engagement with Vodou ‘ "an introspection into the unknown*” has been a way for me to express the freedom of an unbound imagination."

"No, I don’t have any plans to monetize my blog.  I would love to sell some prints where the proceeds would be shared equally together with the individual or community involved.   The hardest aspect of my photography has been raising the funds to carry out the necessary work.  Jetting into Haiti or anywhere for that matter for a one or two weeks photo shoot with some background reading is not how I work.  I spent almost two years observing and learning about Vodoun and eventually becoming an initiate before I began taking photos.  Things cannot be hurried, and I’m learning, at last to be patient." 

September 18, 2015

Open Letters: A Correspondence with Chilean Writer Ignacio Szmulewicz, 4

Ignacio Szmulewicz is an art writer in Santiago, Chile. We met on Twitter and ended up writing each other letters about art writing. You can read the former ones here.

Dear Ignacio,

Your film references made me smile. I like how your writing references so much a visual medium. And it made me wonder if your writing itself is cinematic. Is it as much about the images and the sound as it is about the words? 

Gertrude Stein, one of my favorite writers, wrote like a cubist painting, circling around and around and around its subject, always slightly changing the angle through repetition. How do I write? Friends have told me I have an easy style, I write as if I am talking. I like to take that as a compliment. As an Andy Warhol fan, I can only believe that everything that comes across easy, is a good thing to be! 

But is it easy to make something sound easy that is essentially complicated like art? Let me take one of your references, Gonzalez Iñarritu. His film 21 grams is one that I remember well, although usually films don’t stick with me.  

To delve deeper and deeper, you say. I guess that’s true, but at the same time writing for me is about reaching the surface of things. Truman Capote said that one has to exhaust the emotion before writing, like eating an apple every day so you know exactly how it tastes like but you have lost all appetite. Writing about art involves for me coming to this surface, to write with a clear and cool head, no longer lost in depths. 

Occasionally, however, I do, as a friend noticed, write from a place of anger about art. It’s very easy to write from that place, anger makes the pen flow. Much harder is it to write about art that touched me in a special way. It’s very difficult to write about it because, in such cases, there’s something that escapes me. I guess that something is where poetry comes in. This writing about good art can be a struggle, but when I manage, it feels like I have touched upon that spirit of 21 grams, the weight the body looses upon dying

When I’ve finished such a piece, I can be so content that I read it again and again for hours, like looking at a beautiful painting on the wall. After a while I reach a point of over-saturation so that I can let it go and then I will not look at it again. If I do look at it again, which I sometimes do, I no longer get what the thrill was all about. The magic is gone. 

This whole writing process involves good tools. I have a notebook of Muji with me at all instances because most ideas come to me when I’m on the road. On my desk I have my pencils sharpened, although I rarely use them. They’re just there to spark joy. 

I’m interested in the utensils of writing. Do you have some? 

Best wishes,


September 16, 2015

Berlin Art Week: Get The Party Started!

Christine Sun Kim with friend flashing their VIP bracelets at the entrance of the Monopol party

Berlin Art Week is a party from the beginning to the end. Where the art comes in, that is still to be seen. But it can't hurt to have fun! If you're a social justice person, then this is your time to get drunk on free alcohol and stuffed with food just to compensate the lack of payment in the art world. As you already know from my reporting on Berlin Gallery Weekend, I have a weak spot for society news - the latest "have you heard?" So parties, bring it on, I'm game... And I'm also happy to say that I'm sporting a funky VIP Berlin Art Week card. I'm very excited because this is the very first time that I'm not the +1 in this story but the VIP myself. I know, I'm progressing... 

Sleek online editor Will Furtado with artist kate hers RHEE

Yesterday I hit two parties - starting at Sleek Magazine in Haus Ungarn, followed by a flash visit to the Monopol Party in Bar Weekend. What is interesting about this, is that Alexanderplatz seems to be back on the radar of the art world. Former experimental art spaces like LEAP and HBC. left here a few years ago - now we're back, well, at least  the party is. A sign that the Berlin art world is going in the right direction, was the presence of New York artist Christine Sun Kim at both parties. She recently relocated to Berlin and this can only mean that New York has lost its spirit whereas Berlin is now the place to be. The night was filled with this kind of optimism. The new online editor of Sleek Magazine Will Furtado was schmoozing with artist kate hers RHEE. Artist Björn Wallbaum said he's doing the right thing by moving back to Berlin after a year of absence. And art writer Sarah Luisa Santos told me she writes for this blog called Berlin loves you. Berlin, I heart you too. 

Sarah Luisa Santos and Christine Sun Kim at the Sleek party in Haus Ungarn
Artists Björn Wallbaum and Guglielmo Castelli  
Art lover Shuai Wang and artist Shota Nakamura

September 13, 2015

Take Me! Me! Me! Me! How Contemporary Art Can Bring About A Bad Mood

Okay, admittedly, I was in a slightly bad mood before I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art this morning. But the art on show made it significantly worse. I’m talking about the exhibition that features the yearly award to four contemporary Berlin artists. During the upcoming Berlin Art Week one of these four will win a prize. All four of them had six months to produce their art work for the show - I’m talking about Christian Falsnaes, Florian Hecker, Anne Imhof, and Slavs and Tatars. So this morning I went to the museum to attend an interview with these awardees. And that’s where the headache started. First of all, the acoustics sucked. And second, the first five questions were directed towards one and the same artist, who then talked about the artwork in the show, assuming we had all seen it. Nope. After five minutes I gave up the hope that anything comprehensible would be transmitted in the next hour and left (yeah, my attention span is so much worse on Sundays).  

Instead, I went out to check the exhibition of those four awardees. As usual, each one exhibits in their own separate space. Don’t ask me why they never join forces, make one big exhibit out of it, collaborate in some way, talk to each other, whatever communicative people tend to do -  I don’t know, it’s a mystery. What comes about are four exhibition spaces that hit you in the face with: Take Me! Me! Me! No: Me! 

Let’s start with Slavs and Tatars - I don’t understand their art, I don’t get it, I can only see that the artists do their best to be cool. And they also try hard to be intellectual - in a way that makes everybody feel stupid - you know that kind of intellectual? Slavs and Tatars tend to make a big deal out of “research” (of course they have a kind of newspaper in the show, surprise surprise!). It’s a trend nowadays, artists being researchers and scientists. I mean, as if it’s not plain normal that you do some research before you start creating your art. Why make such a big deal out of it? Artists seem to be looking at science for, as Grayson Perry put it, some “borrowed importance”. After seeing the work of Slavs and Tatars, a friend of mine came up with a great German word: the “Sammelsurium” - which means that you throw some stuff together in the assumption that (tatatata!) a hidden connection will arise. For this art installation Slavs and Tatars copied the aesthetics of Marcel Broodthaers. No doubt, they intend this to be an intellectual move of some sorts, one that creates some augmented meaning. To me, it reveals their incapacity to create a form of their own.

In the next space there is Anne Imhof, who is copying Tino Seghal. Similar to Slavs and Tatars this space projects a cynical and cool atmosphere. Red Bull, cigaretttes, buttermilk, two crawling performers and two crawling tortoises - yeah, you get the picture. In the space I see the same sound panels as in Florian Hecker’s installation. Have we been sponsored?

Floran Hecker’s sound installation is spread over two spaces, decorated with green and blue sound panels (one is absorbing, whereas the other is reflecting the sound). The sound might be interesting, just not my kind of thingy. But I can say something about the aesthetics of the space. It is not minimal - it is clinical. 

Going from there, opening the curtain, I entered in Christian Falsnaes’ interactive installation. Two projections on opposite walls of the space, showing some workshop where people are touching each other, doing exercises, laughing, looking at us, etc. On top of that, an overvoice commands you to look at things, do things, feel things, think things. The voice is the unpleasant one of airports and hospitals. In short, those spaces that you don’t want to spend your time in if you can avoid it. Interactive art can be a pain in the ass. My friend’s first reaction when he entered the space, was: “Lass mich in Ruhe!”

September 11, 2015

Open Letters: A Correspondence with Chilean Art Writer Ignacio Szmulewicz, 3

Ignacio Szmulewicz is an art writer in Santiago, Chile. We started writing each other letters about art writing. Last week I asked him if he has a kind of image that visualizes his writing process. You can read his answer below. 

Dear An.

I carried your letter with me for several days. This is a strange and melancholic phrase to say because I didn’t receive any physical letter but a digital one. Your early experience with teachers made me remember some of my own. I tend to block that part of my childhood, especially the one that took place in those bored and long days of school –my escape was to go to the top floor and watch the landscape or make any excuse to go outside.

In reference to your path drawing, I tend to believe that my own is more linear. I make plans that try to follow or make structures that serve as guides. But for some reason I always treasure more those strange moments when I lost myself in a spiral way. 

I guess I have two different sets of drawings. Those abstract marks in the white page that symbolizes the starting of a new idea regardless of what I have experienced. But I also like to go back “to where I once belonged”, that Beatles song. Revisiting some ideas, I feel that all texts are just a tangled version of the first one –similar to the famous John Cusack quote in the film High Fidelity: “All my romantic histories are a scramble version of that first one.”

In any case, I believe that, either by memory or by inception, the writing subsumes me in a process that I can’t control, a process that evolves, and becomes more and more complex and dramatic, and one that can make me loose track of time. I was very impressed by the movie Birdman by Gonzalez Iñarritu, because it was exactly the kind of experience that I have with regard to writing. One moment you feel like you head is about to exploit and the other moment you feel completely naked. It’s not the loss of direction or the need for orientation, but it is like, in some cases, I literally enter in the images, artists, books or problems that I’m trying to understand, and I can only go out by going deeper and deeper (like in Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams or in The Mill or the Cross). In the awakening I hardly understand what was going on. Afterwards, like with a sculpture, I begin a process of polishing that usually ends with a finished text.

 Akira Kurosawa's Dreams, 1990

That’s why I never feel very related to those silences and drastic ways of enclosing oneself in the writing process (Paul Auster or Roberto Bolaño). I look for a sense of immersion in the reality, like Susan Sontag did, or even more extreme Hunter S. Thompson –I love New Journalism. I want to believe that the text contains a part of the energy that I spent in the writing process.

How can you describe your writing process? How do you feel when slowly the words come to life and pile up on the white page?

Yours sincerely, 


9 September 2015

September 9, 2015

Art Blogger of the Week: Layla Leiman in Johannesburg, South-Africa

I caught Layla Leiman at the right moment: last week she became the editor-in-chief at the South-African creative showcase Between 10and5. This means that her blogger time might get scarce, which is a pity, but I checked out Between 10and5 and it's such a great art site that as editor-in-chief Layla will be bound to flourish some more. I saw, for instance, that Between 10and5 features VLOGs (cool!) and did so recently about Tony Gum, a very cool Capetown artist blogger I've been following too. How cool can it get! Since 2012 Layla's blog with the funky name Derriere has featured young upcoming artists like the Johannesburg artist Bogosi Sekhukuni, while also covering more established events like the FNB Joburg Art Fair. And Layla assured me, she's not about to leave art blogging behind. So follow her blog, or check out her Instagram, and if that's not enough, there's always her personal website to explore.

Art Scene
"The South African art scene has quite a distinct split between the two main cultural capitals - Johannesburg and Cape Town (of course this doesn't mean there aren't dynamic art scenes in other cities in South Africa, only that I don't have the insights to speak to them). In Johannesburg (where I live), the art scene is influenced by the energy of the city, which has a gritty, urban and economic edge. The gallery scene is quite polarised though, with big-name commercial galleries on one side and small independent spaces on the other. Because collectors are still largely white and conservative, it's difficult for galleries and artists to transition from 'emerging' to 'established'. But these are art market concerns I'm sure the world over. In Cape Town however, the contemporary art scene is characterised by self-referential irony and in-jokes, which is often also part of artists' visual language. (Obviously, opinions of this vary, depending on how near or far you are from the Mountain). Over the last few years, and it seems like this year in particular, there's been a frantic hustle for the main commercial galleries to put on 'African' shows and sign artists from other African countries to their stable. Similarly, there's been a lot of emphasis on South African art as African art at international shows. This is evidently in response to the global interest in art from African. Personally however, I find this trend slightly concerning as without consideration, intricate cultural-contextual nuances can be overlooked and the meaning of a work lost or misconstrued in relation to some vague overarching notion of 'Africanness'. What's African?"   

"I started my blog in 2012 with the intention of cataloging for myself, and possibly anyone else interested, the exhibitions happening in Joburg at the time. I was also semi-between jobs at that time, and saw it as a form of writing exercise and means to engage further with the shows I was attending. I don't have a very large following, but was so surprised to learn that (some) people were actually reading my blog. In South Africa there's a vast lack of arts writing and criticism, and artists, especially young artists, are looking for a space in the media to have their work featured, read about their peers and grow their network. I think that perhaps starting my blog was my 'in' into the local art scene; it showed my interest and keenness to be part of it, which lead to other things. Shortly after starting my blog I began also writing for the South African creative showcase site Between 10and5, where I've gone on to play a significant part in growing the publication's art content. Over the years I've interviewed many of South Africa's emerging and established contemporary artists for the site, and today 10and5 is highly regarded within the industry for its showcasing of contemporary SA art. (We're the media partners for the third year for the FNB JobrgArtFair - happening this weekend). Blogging and writing about art has definitely played a large role in connecting me with the art community as well as other art bloggers, most notably Mary Corrigall (who in February this year invited me to take part in a contemporary dance writing workshop she was facilitating for the Dance Umbrella Festival. The outcome of the workshop was a 3-part gazette for the festival and national newspaper coverage)."    

"I have a BA Honours degree majoring in English Literature with an undergraduate Journalism degree. While I don't like to consider myself a writer, I do write for a profession. In the past I worked in advertising as a copywriter, but have been lessening that line of work to focus more on arts and creative related work. Recently (last week) I became editor-in-chief at 10and5, so now although I'm woefully behind on my personal art blog, I get to be involved in and cover art and other creative people and projects as my day job." 

"I don't monetise my personal art blog - it never occurred to me to try; I've always seen it as a personal project and way of engaging with the arts community. I hope that it adds some value though, however small, to the local arts scene simply by being another space for arts to be featured and discussed." 

September 7, 2015

Poetry and Art: Agnes Martin at the Tate

There's nothing that grips the mind more than good art - and like love, it does so in a way that goes beyond words. That's how my travelling partner and I felt after seeing the Agnes Martin show at the Tate Modern. Agnes Martin herself wrote about this beauty: "When I think of art, I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not in the eye, it is in my mind. In our minds there is awareness of perfection." 

After seeing beauty, it takes a few days for the (bodily and spiritual) experience to settle down. It's also called "delayed reaction". This the artist Nick Fudge told us the day afterwards when picking us up at Hastings's train station (about the who/ what/ when/ where and why of Nick Fudge, I will be talking very soon). Writing poetry about art, this Matthew Rana remarked in Frieze, is not exactly a critical solution: "If anything, it opens more questions." But my travelling partner and I had to kill an hour and twenty minutes on the train from London to Hastings. The soothing cadence of the ride, the trickling sound of the rain and the bucolic view of sheep.... it might not inevitably lead to good poetry, but a nice pastime it surely was. 

Agnes Martin, Perfect Happiness, 1999

Agnes Martin

Is it the lack of variation
or is it that the variations
are so subtle,
obscured the riches
beyond them,
exposed only
in the way their creator
brought them about

I follow the lines 
you drew
looking for a failure
an interruption of some sort
a shaking of the hand,
I want you to fail
as much as I need you
to succeed

a steady hand
a shaky mind
and a disciplined eye
in a split spirit

September 3, 2015

Open Letters: A Correspondence with Chilean Art Writer Ignacio Szmulewicz, 2

Ignacio Szmulewicz is an art writer in Santiago, Chile. We met the 21st century kind of way, on Twitter, where we "follow" each other. Curiosity at first, followed by sympathy and, not long after that, a writers' friendship. Twitter's 140 characters messages did not longer do the trick, so we got to emailing. Then I received a letter by Ignacio in my mailbox - not handwritten but a standard letter format nevertheless. You can read it here, and I'm responding to it below.

Dear Ignacio,

Pop music and films seems to be a great influence on any writing - always good to have a certain pop surface going on, don’t you think? 

But your letter made me realize that, for me, it was first about art and it’s only then that came in the writing. And even up till now, art instigates my writing and I write because of art and I don’t know if I would write without it. I enjoy the writing about art because it’s the writing process that allows me to think about art. Instead of starting off with an idea, the thinking comes while writing and it’s the writing that brings me closer to understanding art.  

And although I’m passionate about art, it is the writing that makes me content. However, as a kid I didn’t write much, not even a diary, and my writing assignments for school were never discovered as prodigious by the teachers. Even while writing my PhD it wasn’t so much about the writing, which I simply considered to be the output of an intellectual process, and hopefully a readable one. That bliss of writing, I discovered it only afterwards when I was no longer confined to academic logic and free to associate, use humor, even intuition and, oh yes, my very own personal experience - crisscrossing the genres as this beautiful blend of art criticism allows so well. Doing so, slowly I started to think I might be good at writing and that writing, even the critical one, is art. 

For my writing to take shape, I feel like it wasn’t so much the books that I read being a kid that left a lasting impression on me, but rather those mentors at school or at the local academy who opened up my mind and made me feel elated when going up in the creative flow. I remember Mr. Ivo who made me laugh a lot (laughter at school!), my piano teacher Dominique who stood out with her colorful outfits, Gunther singing Cat Stevens, and I still have mixed feelings about Mitzi but, nevertheless, it was she who taught me how to recite poetry, and then there were those Friday nights at the art academy from six till nine, which equalled being in a bubble of the color gold. 

It was my PhD mentor who told me that I had basically two options in life (he has this talent to structure any ongoing chaos). He drew those two options for me. One was a straight line with an arrow, the other one a line that kept splitting up into different directions like a rhizome. Isn’t the rhizome more visually interesting than the arrow? But it was rather willy nilly that it turned out to be the road I took and moreover, it became an image that also defines my writing process. Do you have a kind of image like that, one that, you would say, visualizes your writing? 


Berlin Art Lovers: Shuai Wang (2) - The Blurred Image

You remember what it means to be a Quereinsteiger? Shuai Wang told us how to do it in the art world. Now we're back with part nr. 2 on Berlin art lover Shuai Wang. We talk about his new passion: video art, and connected to that: the blurred image - which has quite some actuality. Have you noticed, for instance, how lately even the most boring event is turned into a "cool" and "clean" video?